Trying to keep tabs on every new show that lands on Netflix is practically impossible at this point. Famously, the streaming giant over the past few years has invested billions towards acquiring existing content and developing original programming. And while Netflix has no problems boasting about its growing media library and its award-winning originals, the company has never been forthcoming when it comes to ratings for individual programs. Hardly an accident, this is a strategic decision the company has employed for years on end.
As Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos explained early last year, releasing ratings data for any given show isn’t ideal. “Once we give a number for a show,” Sarandos said, “then every show will be benchmarked off of that show even though they were built sometimes for very specific audiences.”
“There is a very natural inclination to say, ‘Relative to this show, this show is a failure.’” Sarandos added. “That puts a lot of creative pressure on the talent.”
With Netflix not willing to play along, Nielsen has jumped into the fray with a brand new service designed to measure what shows people are watching on Netflix.
To get around Netflix’s black box, Nielsen is using proprietary technology to capture audio data on what people are watching and then assigning metadata, like the name of the show and the episode. (Radio measurement firms have used a version of this technique for some time.)
Netflix, though, is of the opinion that paying for Nielsen’s data is pretty much a waste of time. In a statement on the matter, Netflix said that Nielsen’s data isn’t even close to being accurate.
Indeed, it’s a bit murky as to how Nielsen is tabulating its data. We know that it’s via an opt-in service, but that in and of itself creates a self-selection bias that could easily skew any interesting findings. Additionally, the service only applies to Netflix programs that are watched via set-top boxes on standard TV sets. In other words, Nielsen’s data does not incorporate any of the content viewed on mobile devices like smartphones or tablets.
For now, Nielsen’s service only tracks Netflix shows, but the company has plans to soon cover programs from both Amazon Prime and Hulu next year.